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View21: Freeview+ HD with apps and smartphone control, but it’s not YouView

There are lots of Freeview HD recorders, but not many you can control with your phone or that stream video to your mobile while it records.

View21 is an internet-ready Freeview HD recorder that tries to bridge the gap between dumb digital boxes and smart home media servers.

Available in 320GB (c. £175) and 500GB (c. £250) flavours, it has two Freeview HD tuners and an Ethernet port to hook into your home network and broadband.

It comes with four apps – BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter – and discussions are ongoing with ‘the usual suspects’ in the world of on-demand for more.

With apps for iOS (Android’s in development), you can send photos from your mobile or tablet to the TV, take complete control without interrupting what’s on, and stream your recordings while live TV plays on the main TV.

It’s not, however, a YouView box – any apps and broadband functions come through the red button on Freeview HD, or from View21 themselves, and it doesn’t have YouView’s 7-day ‘backwards’ programme guide.

Too good for Goodmans

View21 is designed in the UK by Harvard International, who most people will know better as the makers of Goodmans home entertainment products. This is better than your average Goodmans product.

The EPG is a slick, HD design, with a seven of 11-line appearance (with or without live video thumbnail in the corner) that’s crowned by synopsis info and an ‘application bar’. It can be transparent or opaque, and also has a three-line mini-guide mode.

This shows you the EPG genre filters, which work on individual programme information, not entire channels, so the filtering is much more accurate. However, it only filters four hours ahead, and you can’t force it to filter the entire week-ahead EPG, which would take quite a while.

You can also scroll along the application bar to find the four applications, the recording library, and settings menus.

Recordings can be set up with series links, and can automatically stitch together split recordings – films interrupted by news, for instance.

The recording library can be viewed as a list or thumbnails from each recording, it also has programme filters to make it easier to sort your recordings, and groups series episodes into folders to stop your recording list bloating out of control.

Follow the tweet rabbit

All of the in-box apps have been given a View21 skin, except for iPlayer, which has the standard HTML5 big-screen format.

It’s a decent look and makes the experience of using apps feel a lot more integrated. The Twitter client, in particular, has been designed for browsing rather than posting. You can follow particular lists and search freely, or follow trending topics, and there’s an unobtrusive ‘ticker’ mode so you can follow tweets about the show you’re watching.

Flickr is handy for browsing your uploaded photos, but the iPad View21 Photo app is probably more in tune with the zeitgeist, allowing you to fling your snaps from your tablet to the big screen over your home network.

The View21 Play app is a complete remote control system that lets you browse the EPG, set up recordings and even change channels through your home network on iPad or iPhone.

The apps have been designed for the different screen sizes and the iPad app, in particular, feels like a model other manufacturers could learn from.

You can stream direct from your View21 box to your phone or tablet in full HD resolution, but only over your home network. The same goes for setting up the box- remote control is no more remote than the reach of your WiFi.

How does it look? It’s a pretty nice design for a set-top box, elegant but unobtrusive, although it’s much bigger than we’d like.

The back panel hosts an Ethernet port, USB for parking external storage, HDMI, optical digital audio out and two Scart sockets. 

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